Yayla CorbasI – a comfort food

My first pregnancy was ticking like a time bomb waiting to implode.  Until finally it did.  Here’s what happened…

My husband and I waited to have children – and found ourselves on the brink of having waited too long. I sat in the doctor’s office, anxious for the results of our fertility tests. Dr. Patrizio pronounced prescriptive words and foreign concepts – unfamiliar even before they rolled off his thickly-accented tongue. “IVF…ICK-zeee…COH…CVS…” I scribbled on a piece of paper, hoping I caught enough of the acronyms to look them up later, and tried to keep up as he hurled terms toward me like a spelling bee massacre. The gist was that, while not impossible, it was improbable we could conceive without intervention.

The following week, we met with a nurse assistant who shared with us an entirely different, yet equally strange, set of vocabulary and instructions. She pulled out visual aids, a wad of scripts to fill, and a photocopied diagram of what appeared to be an eight-year-old rendering of a female human body, with dotted-line arrows veering off to various fleshy body parts, ripe for injection. With broad, demonstrative strokes, she went back over the arrows with her ball-point pen, as if the emphasis somehow made everything clear.

Tolga returned later that day with the pharmacy’s version of Bloomingdale’s BIG brown bag, filled with all sorts of individually-wrapped IVF accessories and medications, some needing refrigeration. I cleared out the leftover lasagna to make room for the “new tenants” and stood in front of the bag, unable to fathom how ANYONE would allow non-medical professionals to go home with these implements – to say NOTHING of actually putting them to the prescribed use. I had a slight complicating factor – a childhood cancer that, after etching into me various physical scars, also bequeathed a reactionary fear of injections. I cried for 3 straight days. And Tolga smoked countless sympathetic cigarettes.

Took some getting used to, but eventually, and true to the advertised odds, on our third cycle we were pregnant. We started to think of names. Then, one night after moving a box, a stupid box of trains, the ground on which I stood started to shift. I was desperate to get out of Connecticut, where we’d been living temporarily, and get back to New York City. I had started packing months before the actual move and I lifted a box of old HO-scale model trains, heavier than anticipated. Almost immediately, from deep within I felt an intense, trembling ache. I put myself on the couch, pretended to be listening to my husband talk, and panicked in silence that my relentless inability to sit still may have harmed my pregnancy. It was the first time I hadn’t turned to Tolga for comfort.

The next night at tap dance class, I felt the same ache. And later that night, at a friend’s apartment in the city, I started to bleed. Frantic, I called Tolga, then I called the doctor.

The morning’s ultrasound revealed a pool of blood hovering over our kidney-bean-sized baby. Dr. Patrizio looked over the photos, shook his head, and uttered, porca miseria… – a familiar Italian phrase to me, as I had heard my grandmother use it hundreds of times, usually reserved for moments of more-than-mild catastrophe. I was bed-rested at 8 weeks.

The next couple of months were a blur of bleeding, “googling,” hospital stays, and worry. I understood now the inner workings of torture: break the spirit by providing a constant level of anxiety and uncertainty, while simultaneously depriving of food (during each hospital stay, in case emergency surgery was needed) and sleep. In the winter of my annual February discontent, I went especially stir crazy – on the bed, on the couch, in the hospital. I had long hours of fear, of feeling trapped, and of an acute guilt for the predicament in which we now found ourselves. At 20 weeks, we knew we were having a boy. He seemed perfect in every way, except for the threat – quite literally – looming above him.

I prayed for my son’s life, I prayed for resolution – one way or another, I prayed for forgiveness.

During those months, we moved back to New York. I was home again. And despite the noise and the crowds and the air pollution, I could breathe easier. Then, one afternoon, resolution came. Lying on the couch, reading nothing of consequence, I felt a rush of fluid. I was bleeding again, or so I thought. I called my new doctor – my college friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist – who cradled me in her care at Cornell as soon as we moved back. At the hospital, I learned the blood clots had weakened the gestational sac to the point that, likely, it had been slowly leaking amniotic fluid until it finally ruptured like a water balloon. And at 23.5 weeks, he could not survive, his lungs hadn’t yet fully formed. It was too soon. Just a little too soon for him. Adding searing insult to this egregiously painful injury, I had to physically go through labor and childbirth – but without the tremendous prize at the end.

I was discharged two days later – on Mother’s Day.  From the passenger seat, I mused sardonically about the coincidence as we pulled out of the hospital’s parking garage. The sun shone brightly against a brilliant, blue sky. Weather knows nothing of heartache or sympathy. Finally, in the privacy afforded to me in our own car – privacy otherwise unavailable during the last 48 hours of my hospital stay, I broke down in tears and wept the entire way back to Morningside Heights.

I can’t recall a single moment in my life that left me so bereft, so empty as that sequence of events – being in the delivery room, giving birth to my baby, and then leaving without him. A pregnancy so difficult to achieve, so long in the making, was lost cruelly and unceremoniously.

It’s been six years now. Six years. I wish I could say it no longer saddens me – or that I’ve forgiven myself. Parts of me have healed, other parts not yet reconciled are usually buried in the flurry of current-day activities. Sometimes my idle mind wanders to him, wondering who he would’ve been, what bedtime stories would be his favorites, what his hugs would feel like, how he’d feel about his little sister. And I am reminded of the great harm – albeit unknowingly – I am capable of inflicting.

Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. Sometimes you get lucky, despite yourself, and sometimes you don’t. And to ease miserable moments, I make Yayla Corbasi, Eastern Anatolian yogurt soup – my favorite go-to Turkish comfort food. It is yet another wonderful way the Turks use yogurt for savory nourishment. If you’re in need of comfort food, and want something different than mac-n-cheese, this won’t let you down.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 ½ – 2 tsp salt
  • ½ cup Arborio rice (Note: White rice is what Anne uses, and what seems to be generally used in Turkey, but, for my Italian origins, I find Arborio with its creamy texture especially suited to this soup)
  • 3 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbpsn white rice flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 tbspn melted butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 tsp dried mint

Instructions:

  1. Bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil; add Arborio rice, cover, and cook over medium heat for 30-35 minutes, until the rice is tender. Then, maintain a low simmer…
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, egg yolks, and white rice flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup of cold water to the yogurt mixture.yayla corbasI
  3. Add the yogurt mixture to the soup, passing the yogurt mixture through a sieve. Stir and cover for an additional 10-15 minutes, cooking the egg yet being careful not to boil.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it gently sizzles, and add the dried mint, crushing it as it is added to the butter. Stir, and then slowly add to the soup along with additional salt, to taste.

This soup not only stays well in the refrigerator but also freezes well. If it thickens the next day, simply add water, heat, and serve.

BabaAnne’s Kuru Fasulye

Kuru Fasulye

BabaAnne, my husband’s fiery-haired grandmother, had me on the edge of my seat that entire afternoon. She and I were meeting for the first time the summer after he and I were married in 1999.  She knew me only as the reason her grandson didn’t return to Turkey and so had more than one withering glance for me.

After preliminary inspection, she barely acknowledged my presence. Cigarette in one hand, Turkish coffee in the other, she sat in a parlor chair in her Istanbul apartment like royalty in a room of onlookers, nodding her head in approval, sipping her coffee, as Tolga’s father shared family updates. Using just a couple of Turkish words carefully practiced on the airplane, I attempted to show my interest and enthusiasm.  Her dark eyes peered at me from over the horizon of the coffee she sipped.  Yeah, my parents had this great idea, go meet the family…no, I can’t go with you til next year, but I’m telling you, they’ll LOVE you… were my husband’s words, like a sweet-sounding refrain morphing into a minor chord as I sat across from her.

Known for being stubborn, opinionated, and exceedingly judgmental, I didn’t see how this would end well.  But she was also known for her kuru fasulye, a white bean stew that, despite my many formidable attempts, I’ve never been able to duplicate. She was the type for whom you’d forgive any character flaw in exchange for her beans. Using simple ingredients, a large saucepan showing years of wear, and a heavy wooden spoon, she transformed those tiny beans and chopped veggies into a heart-stopping, mouth-watering stew.

I took plates from the kitchen with the intention of setting the table.  Without warning, she turned on her heels, glared at me, waved a boney finger in my face, and only relinquished a lip-pursing after I slowly lowered the plates back down to the counter, never averting my eyes for a second, as if returning a bone to a ferocious dog about to pounce.

The stew was served with tomato rice pilaf and freshly-baked pide, a Turkish bread that resembles a round Sicilian slice of pizza, but without the sauce and cheese, and the aroma of the freshly-baked pide and the simmering beans was like nothing I had ever experienced. As I lifted the first bite toward my mouth, I can’t be sure, but I think there were church bells ringing…and fireworks outside her balcony…and a parade marching down the street.  It was THAT good.  Suddenly I didn’t care if she despised me.  As long as she fed me.

After dinner, we drank Turkish tea.  At one point, I excused myself to take the extra folding chairs from the dining room table back to the balcony where they belonged. A faint call to prayer echoed from the nearest mosque through the open door. It was time to leave, and my father-in-law took his mother’s hand, kissed it, and then touched it to his forehead, as a respectful gesture for the one who cared for and fed him as a child. My mother-in-law kissed her, and when it was my turn, she suddenly beamed at me, taking my hand for a firm handshake, and then clasped my face with her hands to kiss me on both cheeks. I was convinced she was glad to get rid of me. But as we walked back to the car, my father-in-law explained, quite surprised himself at her declaration on our way out, that my unintentional gesture at the end of the visit – returning the folding chairs to the balcony – was the gesture that won her. And I chuckled, as I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker launching my proton torpedo at the almost-impossible Death Star target.

Today, our daughter Ayla resembles this spitfire in both looks and “charm.” So in honor of this feisty lineage, her kuru fasulye, imitated but never equaled:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried white or small lima beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 green frying or cubanelle pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbspn tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

The beans:

  • Soak the beans overnight in a large pot with 2-3 inches of water above the beans themselves
  • The next day, rinse and change the water, adding more water and boil, with lid covering only partly, cook on high for about 10 minutes
  • After the boil, remove the white foam with a wooden spoon (my mother-in-law believes this keeps the beans’ gasses to a minimum, although I haven’t been able to confirm from my own personal gastrointestinal experience…)
  • Sieve the beans, running water over them

The sauce:

  • Chop onion and pepper, peel and chop tomatoes
  • Sauté veggies in olive oil in a large saucepan, medium-high for about 15 minutes, give or take, enough to “kill” the onions
  • Add tomato paste and continue to stir

Now:

  • Add beans and 1 tea glass of water (special note:  liquids – and sometimes even dried goods – are measured, imprecisely, in tea glasses, which is roughly 4-5 ounces…as I hone the measurement further, I will provide updates!
  • Bring to a boil
  • Salt to taste

Serve with your favorite bread or pilaf.